Saturday, 31 January 2015

Dartford parkrun 28 - if you clap they will run faster

Things aren't going great at the moment running-wise. I've had a small amount of discomfort in my left knee for a while and I've drastically cut back my training. I also took a trip to see the physio on Tuesday evening and have been doing some stretching and strengthening exercises of the muscles that could be contributing to my discomfort.

So the question as to whether or not I should run at Dartford parkrun event 28 kept bouncing around my head and during the walk (that's a clue) over to the park I paid close attention to how the knee felt. I couldn't feel any discomfort at all. Undecided I met Richey and Adam then we got onto the course inspection and set up.

dartford parkrun 28 [photo: dani]

There were a few icy patches around the park but fortunately none of them were in positions that interfered with the parkrun course. The grass/trail section had held up pretty well and actually felt firmer underfoot than it has for a few weeks. The incline was still a little slippery underfoot but still runnable.

So back at DpHQ, also known as the Dartford Harriers clubhouse, I had to make the final decision as to whether I was going to run. During the previous 24 hours it had improved to the point of feeling completely normal and it was this noticeable improvement that lead me to opt out of running at the event. My logic was that I did not want to undo the progress that I had made.

marshal7t [photo: richey estcourt]

So I became a marshal at 'Angie.... Aaaaangie's corner' which to anyone other than me and Richey is probably better known as the first corner. I headed over there with my daughter and just about made it there in time to point the 128 runners in the right direction. As a marshal the main thing to remember here is that you send them to their left on lap one and to their right on lap 2. Once they had all filtered through we had about 9 minutes of spare time until the lead runners would reach us for their second laps.

As I was directing the runners down Mick Jagger's Leg my daughter called me over and said 'if you clap they will run faster'. I'm not sure how solid the science is on that, but I gave it a go anyway. Once all the runners had passed on their second laps we headed back over to the start/finish where I was supposed to be barcode scanning.

give us a wave [photo: 7t]

However the scanning was already being taken care of so after spending a few minutes at the registration desk I wandered off to cheer the runners as they made their way towards the finish line. After this I started to collect some of the signs where I bumped into Adam and Jane who had already retrieved some signs for the far side of the course.

It was feeling quite cold by now and we were all quite relieved to finally make it back to the clubhouse where we were able to warm up, have a drink and a good old natter. I was disappointed to have missed a run but I thoroughly enjoyed marshaling and was very impressed with myself for being sensible enough to sit it out.

My full course description can be found in this post.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Dartford parkrun 27 - running with tony, a slippery trail and our first female overall first finisher

My initial plan for Dartford parkrun event 27 was to use it as an opportunity to practice my 20 minute pacing role which I will hopefully take on again in a few weeks time. However, none of the super-speedy kids turned up and I found myself right in the mix at the front of the pack from the off.

Through the first 200 metres or so I kept the pace relaxed and eventually another runner went past me to lead the group of 121 runners around the park. At this stage I still had it in mind to practice my 20 minute pacing so I didn't follow him as he edged slightly further away.

running alongside tony [photo: brian page]

As we progressed along the grassy trail section I found that I was running side-by-side with the President of Dartford Harriers AC, Tony Durey. We stayed this way for the rest of the lap by which point we had moved up into positions 1 and 2. Shortly after this we expanded into a trio when we were joined by the lead woman.

The three of us stayed together shuffling around between the first three positions. We were briefly separated during the second time up the slippery trail path and then we shuffled around a little more. By the time we had made it to the end of the football pitches, Tony and the lead lady had edged ahead of me and they both used the downhill path to greater effect than I did, increasing the gap.

coming down the twisty path on lap 1 [photo: brian page]

I managed to close the gap a little during the first half of the final kilometre but as we neared the end, they again started to edge away from me and I watched the battle for P1 unfold from a few metres behind. In the end the lead woman finished in overall first position. This was the first time that the overall first finisher had been female at Dartford parkrun, but she did not have a barcode and went down as an unknown runner.

This initially had a knock-on effect on the results because it meant that both of the day's first finishers' names were missing from the event history page. This is because unknown runners are recorded as 'male' by default. So the unknown female runner was listed as the first male finisher and Tony's name did not appear at all. The overall second female finisher, triathlete Tanya Brightwell, was listed as being the first female finisher. That was until Richey had a little chat with parkrun hq and was provided with a solution. The results tables now correctly show 'unknown athlete (f)' as the first finisher and Tony as the first male.

the final few metres [photo: brian page]

My splits from the run were pretty good and my last kilometre turned out to be my fastest of the entire run which doesn't happen that often. My pacing practice went out of the window and I ended up finishing just 1 second slower than the previous week which I was very pleased with considering I am 'having a break' and hadn't run since the Kent Fitness League race at Minnis Bay six days earlier.

After this I did some barcode scanning and then went out to retrieve the signage and cones from around the course. I returned to the clubhouse to find a lovely cup of tea awaiting me. As always it was another great parkrun morning.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Kent Fitness League 2014/15: Minnis Bay

Match 6 of the 2014/15 Kent Fitness League (KFL) took place at Minnis Bay on the Isle of Thanet in the north-east corner of the county. The Isle of Thanet is predominantly a flat area of low lying land which was once separated from the rest of mainland England by a combination of waterways which formed the Wantsum Channel.

isle of thanet and wantsum channel

This channel had largely dried up by the 16th century and the remaining watercourse at the northern end is now known as the River Wantsum. Interestingly, assuming the image above is accurate and I've got my geography right, the area that is used for this fixture would have been completely underwater just a few hundred years ago - which explains a lot about this race (it's a wet one!). As a note of interest, Thanet was temporarily returned to an island for a few days following the North Sea Flood of 1953.

This was my fourth race wearing the alternating light and dark blue hoops of the 93-year-old Dartford Harriers AC and I'm very proud to be part of this historic club. It was also my first opportunity to try out my cross-country running spikes which I picked up in Decathlon for £35 a few weeks beforehand. I was going to use 12mm spikes but the ones I had didn't have the hex key nut which meant I couldn't tighten them properly with the supplied key, so I went with the 9mm spikes that came with the shoes and they seemed to do a decent job at keeping me upright and speedy.

welcome to minnis bay [photo: 7t]

The main pre-race items to attend to were;

Car parking: There is ample free parking along the seafront.
Toilets: In the car park near the start line (just toilets, no bespoke changing areas here)
Cafe: There is a cafe/restaurant just next to the toilets.

The race started and finished on the grass area adjacent to the beach – I've heard that when the tide is out the race starts down on the beach itself. This year the high tide was at 8.58am and the beach was still underwater as we reached the 11am start time. As this race has a number of water features I decided that it would be too risky to wear my phone or Garmin. So for the first time ever I ran naked.

trying to get the shoe laces just right [photo: dani]

At 11am we were sent on our way (video of the start - thanks, dani) and we headed westbound along the seafront with the Brooksend Stream to the left and the sea to the right. There was a section early on which featured a tarmac path, but there was enough grass on the right hand side for runners in spikes to run on. However I found that I had naturally drifted to the left where the grass verge was narrow and bumpy.

I eventually managed to get across to the right hand side but was disheartened as I felt like I had lost a number of places. Once we reached the end of the path, the terrain became better suited to the spikes and I began to get used to running in them. Being right next to the sea there was always the risk of getting a battering from the wind but apart from being quite cold, the wind didn't really cause me any problems.

and they're off [photo: dani]

The terrain here was very wet and featured a chain of large, cold muddy puddles every few metres. At around the 3 kilometre point, the course met with the River Wantsum and we continued to run along the seafront until we reached Knock Point (4km) where the course turned left to head south taking us away from the sea. The southbound route continued for another kilometre along the top of a berm, which was muddy but dryer than the first section had been, until we reached the train line which runs from east to west.

Now just over halfway into the race, it was time to head eastwards and head back in the general direction of the start/finish. From 5 kilometres to 8 kilometres, with the exception of a short twisty section at around 6.8km to visit the five water ditches (dykes), the race followed the straight-as-an-arrow path to the north of the railway line where a train, which sounded like a jet fighter, came thundering past from behind and scared the life out of me.

during the stampede at the start [photo: dani]

There had been a few days of heavy rain in the weeks leading up to the race so the five dykes were well stocked with plenty of muddy water. Before the race I had imagined them being extremely cold, but on the day the water didn't actually feel cold at all; if anything they were warmer than the air temperature and the five separate crossings were over within a minute or two. The worst thing was that my gloves got wet and that meant that my hands felt colder for the remainder of the race.

during the splashy 'out' section [photo: funk dooby]

At 8 kilometres the path took a slight left turn over the Brooksend Stream and headed back towards the seafront along a nice muddy single track path for part of the way where we re-joined the opening 1 kilometre section to head back to the start/finish area. This time the part along the tarmac path was slightly different as we were directed away from it to run over three lumps - I think they are usually referred to as sand dunes, but they were muddy, definitely not sandy. It was a fun and enjoyable section to throw in right at the end.

1 of the 5 dykes [photo: mick wraight]

After this we were back on the grass start/finish area for the final sprint. I headed into the finish funnel and worked myself around to pick up my finishing position raffle ticket, which I was pleased to see was number 36 - much better than my previous effort a few weeks beforehand. I was pretty cold so I headed off to get changed into my dry clothes (I am finally getting better at this cross country post-run stuff!).

As I didn't wear any GPS technology to track my run, I don't have any split times, strava segments or the course profile to analyse and you know what? It's actually really refreshing. So until the official results were published I had absolutely no idea of my finishing time. Looking at other runner's GPS data the course was 9.7 kilometres (6 miles) in length, and for the record it was pancake flat with the exception of the odd short, sharp incline to climb over a berm or something similar. I definitely felt much more confident on the slippery mud wearing the spikes and I'm looking forward to the last match of this season's league in a few weeks.

post-run - looking a lot cleaner than i actually was [photo: dani]


Finishing position: 36 / 361
Finish time: 42.16
Team result: 3 / 18

(the full results can be found here)

Links to my other blog posts from KFL fixtures in the 2014/15 season:

Match 1: Knole Park (did not take part)
Match 2: Swanley (did not take part)
Match 3: Oxleas Wood
Match 4: Fowlmead
Match 5: Nurstead Court
Match 6: Minnis Bay
Match 7: Blean Woods (forthcoming)

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Dartford parkrun 26 - an icy morning, my first time as a pacer and an accidental first finishing position

Dartford parkrun event 26 was quite a cold one. The overnight temperatures had dipped below zero, frozen all of the puddles and caused a light frost. After the course inspection, the course didn't seem to have suffered too much so the decision was taken to go ahead as planned.

twenty minute pacer [photo: richey estcourt]

The event fell on the third Saturday of the month which meant that it was pacers day. I had volunteered to attempt to pace at 20 minutes and a few minutes before the run started I had the 20 minute pacer label attached to my back. The pacers were introduced to the runners during the run briefing and we were then sent on our way.

early morning frost and ice [photo:7t]

My plan for the pacing, considering the course is not completely flat was to keep an even effort rather than an even pace, so my rough plan was this;

To start with a 3.59 first kilometre, then as the second kilometre starts with a downhill, let gravity do some of the work and put in a 3.50. The third kilometre is flat so another 3.59 would be perfect. Kilometre four is always my slowest and can sometimes be over 4 minutes, so I planned for this to be a 4.10 split. Then the last kilometre would be a return to the 3.59 pace and an overall time of 19.57.

around the 1 kilometre point adjacent to the football pitches [photo: richey estcourt]

The thing with plans is that they seldom work out. So here's what actually happened...

I got as far as the other side of the bridge and as I turned right to go onto the grass/trail section my feet caught a slippery patch and I found myself hitting the floor with a bump. I was helped up within a second or two and I continued my way along the grassy path - fortunately the only injury was a slight graze to my right shin.

frost and a sign (but no cones) [photo: 7t]

I continued around the trail and up to the football pitches where my Garmin buzzed to alert me that I had reached the 1 kilometre point, the Garmin said 3.55, so the first kilometre was pretty much on target. I was running with the front runners at this stage and we continued together around to the 2 kilometre point which we hit at a pace of 3.59 (according to Garmin). Total time 7.54 (pacing target of 8 minutes).

still on the football fields [photo: richey estcourt]

Before setting off on the run I had advised the timekeepers that if my pacing was going well I should reach them in a time of around 9 minutes and 30 seconds - as I passed them towards the end of lap one I heard a shout of 9.12 - That was a little faster than I had expected due to the feedback from the Garmin, but I thanked them and continued on.

another sign and more frost [photo: 7t]

The third kilometre passed fairly quickly and I found myself back on the grassy trail section (without slipping this time), the Garmin split time for kilometre 3 was 3.55, meaning an 11.49 3km split (11 seconds in front of the target but in line with my plan) but the notification came a touch later than I was expecting.

heading towards the start/finish area [photo: richey estcourt]

Up the trail, across the football pitches for a second time and then it was back down the twisty path and into the main section for a final whizz up to the library and back. My Garmin definitely should have alerted me to the 4 kilometre point as soon as I entered this part but it didn't.

limette the fox-viking-marshal [photo: dani] 

When my Garmin did finally alert me to my kilometre split, it gave me a 4.01 as my fourth kilometre split time, which I thought was great but as it came further down the path than I had expected. The total time according to Garmin was now 15.50 - just 10 seconds in front of the target. However I was now very suspicious that it might not have been tracking the distance as accurately as it usually does.

at the end [photo: richey estcourt]

The last kilometre was a case of just maintaining the pace I had been running for the last 4 kilometres, so that's what I did. I was hoping that I'd cross the line within 1% of my pacing time. A pacing goal of 20 minutes means that a 1% tolerance is equal to 12 seconds, so I had a window of 19.48 - 20.12 in order to stay within this percentage.

frost and cones (final corner) [photo: 7t]

I ended up crossing the finish line in 19.28 (P1) which was 32 seconds quicker than my target time, so I was a little disappointed for not being closer. The Garmin ended up tracking the course a little short and if I had continued running until it had registered the full 5k I would have been very close to the target - So, I'm blaming the technology for my failure!

from l-r gary (in the background), adam (24 min pacer), me (20 minute pacer), ben (30 minute pacer)

Further analysis using the course Strava segments shows that I ran the first 2.5 kilometres in 9.44 and the second 2.5 kilometres in 9.50 (they don't add up to the total official time, but it gives a fairly rough idea of splits). I'm not entirely sure if my pacing actually helped anyone to complete the course any faster, but it was still fun to do. It was great to put another slightly different angle on the event and I'm really looking forward to doing it again.

After the run I did a bit of barcode scanning, helped to pack away some of the signage and then spent the rest of the morning in the Dartford Harriers clubhouse with the rest of the gang... it seems to have been another successful event!

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